|© UNICEF Niger/2007/ Barger|
|Community health worker Adama Abdoulaye (right) teaches Tchima Salifou how to prepare and administer ORS to her daughter, Soumaïya, 5, at the Soumarana health post.|
By Marlene Barger
SOUMARANA, Niger, 14 January 2008 – Soumaïya, 5, went to bed feeling ill. By the morning, her condition had worsened and she was stricken with vomiting and diarrhoea. Thankfully, her mother took her to Soumarana’s health post and Soumaïya received proper attention.
“I knew it was time to take her to see the community health worker,” said her mother, 25-year-old Tchima Salifou.
Early intervention for diarrhoea is vital because children can suffer from acute dehydration within hours of its onset. In Niger, where one child in five dies before the age of five years, 18 per cent of these deaths are caused by diarrhoea.
UNICEF, in collaboration with Niger’s Public Health Department, provides low-cost, life-saving treatment for dehydration in the form of oral rehydration salts (ORS). In Niger, these packets have been adapted to the local culture, with information printed in three languages – French, Hausa and Zarma. In addition, drawings illustrate preparation instructions for those who cannot read.
When ORS solution is administered in a timely manner, it reduces the seriousness and duration of diarrhoea.
Front line against illness
Mothers and other caregivers form the front line in the fight against childhood illness. Access to essential health information is a key factor in promoting family health.
Ms. Salifou now keeps a close watch on the well-being of Soumaïya, her only child. She and her daughter sleep under a bed net to prevent malaria. Tchima listens regularly to educational programming on the radio at home.
“I especially like the programmes on family health,” Ms. Salifou said.
UNICEF and its partners reach a wide audience in rural and urban Niger with broadcasts in the local languages that focus on subjects such as hand-washing, hygiene, adequate nutrition and managing childhood illnesses.
Treatment begins at home
Community health worker Adama Abdoulaye teaches her patients about healthy practices as she treats them. At the Health Post, she showed Ms. Salifou how to prepare and administer ORS, and emphasized the need for clean water.
“ORS can be used any time a person has diarrhoea, and it isn’t just for children,” Ms. Abdoulaye noted.
Ms. Salifou took her daughter to the community health post early in the illness, but she now knows that she could have started treatment at home with ORS. The next time a family member is at risk of diarrhoea, Ms. Salifou will have the solution at home.
Gaelle Bausson contributed to this story.